• Release Date: To be out soon
  • Cast: Sanjeev Buragohain, Katharson Engti
  • Director: Manas Sagra

I watched Manas Sagra’s short film ‘The Tongue of My Mother’ twice to grasp the underlying nuances and emotions completely. The film chronicles a period of time in the lives of a gamut of different students, teachers and officials from various ethnic backgrounds and how the students’ education is progressing under the guidance of a teacher who is frustrated by the fact that he is neither able to capture the interest and attention of the students in their studies, nor unlock their potential. He is also frustrated by the fact that he doesn’t have any room for self-development, being stuck in a remote corner of the state, and is desperately trying to move into a better position. The students, though talented in their own different ways, find it hard to grasp what is taught at school because of their lack of familiarity with the language in which it is taught. The film unfolds over the next few days as we see Manas Sagra addressing a plethora of issues plaguing the promotion of quality education in the remotest parts of the state.

YouTube video

First things first, as has always been the case with Manas’ short films, the film looks gorgeous. I loved the astute framing of the shots and how they contribute to capturing the depth of the emotions and the vision involved in each of the frames. The background score was heart-warming. I reached out to him immediately after completing the film and requested him to upload the soundtrack and songs of the film. I am confident that the songs and the score of the film will be on many people’s lists across different platforms.

A scene from 'The Tongue of my Mother'
The characters felt real and authentic, which is another recurring quality in Sagra’s body of work.

The characters felt real and authentic, which is another recurring quality in Sagra’s body of work. Each and every one of them felt genuine and performed well enough to convey the set of emotions that they were supposed to. The teacher was definitely the standout, as he had the bulk of the opportunity, but utilizing an opportunity is no easy thing. I loved his dialogue delivery and the overall performance. I have seen people like him during my visits to the interior schools of Assam. His is an extremely relatable performance that enhanced the feel and heart of the character.

The flow of the story was leisurely, with an emphasis on the various facets of the lives of the kids that showcased how their respective mother tongues were woven into their daily activities. Whatever they did throughout the day, it was evident that their mother tongues played a significant role in it. Hence, for them to come to school and adopt another language straightaway, a language they didn’t use every day and everywhere, was a tough challenge for them. This point was beautifully conveyed by Manas Sagra’s proficient direction of the film, and in a way that I believe everyone will be able to grasp. What I liked even more about it was how thoughtfully the same was executed. While it was an option to point these aspects of the story out directly, Sagra took a subtler approach. As a result, the point was effectively communicated and accepted without any misgivings.

The masterstroke was having the teacher struggle with the same issue as the students were, yet still holding misgivings about them and their ability to learn. As it was brought out in the end with one swift stroke, it not only defined the importance of the mother tongue in each and every one of our lives but also taught us not to harbour any misgivings about people who do not speak a certain language or are uncomfortable with it. This doesn’t prove them inadequate in any way but only highlights the multicultural and multifaceted fabric of this great country and state we are a part of.

The storytelling takes special care to address the issues of the teachers in the school engaging in other professions to make ends meet. While this might seem like a testimony to their lack of interest in the responsibility that has been entrusted to them, it also points to the poor pay of the teachers that forces them to look for other avenues of financial earnings to help them make ends meet at home. In a poignant scene, we can see one of the teachers counting his earnings from selling meat just seconds before the arrival of the school inspector. This highlights the amount of importance earning money has over his primary duty as a teacher.

I absolutely loved this film and it resonated with me in more ways than one. It doesn’t rely on shock value. It doesn’t offer anything ground-breaking in terms of the story. It doesn’t even present a gamut of colourful and impactful characters. What it does have is a sense of understanding and expression of an issue that is firmly rooted in the misunderstandings and lack of understanding within our society. Acknowledging this issue is the first step toward its solution. It might take years to find a way around this tricky slope, but even if we all start putting in the slightest effort to bridge this gap, the results will start showing soon enough. In a country where English is considered more of a skill than a language, a story of this nature is essential. It might not move mountains, but it will at least ruffle a few feathers.

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‘The Tongue of My Mother’ is doing its rounds in the festival circuits currently but will soon find its way into one of the OTTs or YouTube. Do make it a point to watch this film when it comes out online.

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

The views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not reflect EastMojo’s position.

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